As of May 2018, cannabis is legal in 29 states for medical purposes and nine states, plus Washington D.C., for recreational use, in spite of many attempts by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop marijuana legalization throughout the country. As the number of marijuana users continues to grow, so too do the concerns about secondhand smoke, both for adults who don't use cannabis and for children.
Should cannabis-using parents worry about secondhand smoke exposure in their children, or is this all smoke and mirrors?
Secondhand smoke has been a concern for decades for parents who smoke tobacco. Public service announcements and ad campaigns warned against the dangers of secondhand smoke on young lungs, encouraging parents to smoke outdoors and keep tobacco smoke away from growing children. Exposure to tobacco smoke was associated with an increased risk of asthma and other respiratory problems in young children.
Now, tobacco use is dropping — a study that looked at nearly 170,000 adults between 2002 and 2015 found that the number of cigarette-smoking adults in homes with children declined from 27.6 percent to 20.2 percent.
The same study also found that during that time period, the number of cannabis-using parents rose from 4.9 percent to 6.8 percent, with some studies citing the latter number as high as 17.4 percent in states where marijuana has been legalized.
Little has been done during this trend toward legalization to educate parents on the risks of secondhand cannabis smoke.
A Lack of Evidence
Marijuana hasn't been legal for that long in the grand scheme of things, so there isn't a lot of evidence, positive or negative, concerning secondhand cannabis smoke.
One study completed in Colorado found that 16 percent of kids who were admitted to or treated at the hospital for bronchiolitis — a lung infection common in young children — had been exposed to marijuana smoke alone. Roughly 46 percent had been exposed to both marijuana and tobacco smoke. Legalization seems to have had little or no effect on these numbers.
Cannabis smoke is also almost four times as likely to be found in homes where the parents also smoke tobacco, so these children are often getting a double dose of secondhand smoke. In spite of some claims by medical professionals though, cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic — they do not contain the same chemicals and as such, do not present the same risk to smokers or those exposed to secondhand smoke.
For parents-to-be, in spite of recommendations by dispensaries, marijuana isn't a safe treatment option for morning sickness. One study found that almost 70 percent of cannabis dispensaries in Colorado think that it's a good idea to treat morning sickness with marijuana, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says otherwise. Fetal exposure to marijuana has been known to cause developmental delays and can even cause stillbirth.
When it comes down to it, though, there simply isn't enough evidence either way to claim that secondhand cannabis smoke is harmful to children.
The Risk of Edibles
Smoke isn't the only concern when you have children under the same roof as cannabis products. Edibles — such as brownies, cookies and even candies that have been infused with THC, CBD or both — also present a risk. They look like regular snacks that a child might sneak when a parent isn't looking, but while a marijuana brownie can be a treat for an adult, it can result in poisoning.
To counter this possibility, many companies that produce edible cannabis snacks have started using child-safe packaging to prevent tiny hands from getting ahold of these THC- or CBD-infused snacks.
A Good Rule of Thumb
Whether you're smoking tobacco, cannabis, or Native American herbs, a good rule of thumb is to keep it away from your children whenever possible. We already know that secondhand tobacco smoke is dangerous for children. Even if cannabis smoke proves to be less harmful, it's still a good idea to keep it away from growing lungs.
Smoke outside or away from your children. If you must smoke inside, due to the fact that you live in an apartment complex or for whatever other reason, try to do it in the garage or an area that’s not connected to the rest of the home's ventilation system.
Installing a high-quality HEPA filter in your air conditioner can also help to reduce contamination in the rest of the home. Make sure you change the filter frequently to optimize your home's HVAC system while ensuring that cannabis smoke doesn't permeate the rest of your house.
If you handle small children, especially infants, take the time to change your shirt and wash your hands thoroughly before you pick them up after smoking. This set of actions should be a rule if you smoke tobacco as well. Infants love to chew on fingers, especially when they're young and teething, and you don't want them to chew on a hand coated with marijuana or tobacco residue.
The Final Plan of Action
When it comes down to it, whether or not we have any evidence stating that cannabis smoke is harmful, it's always a good idea to keep it away from our children. It's no different than respecting a non-smoker who comes to your home — you wouldn't smoke around them if they asked you not to. Children, especially young children, might not be able to ask you to stop smoking around them.
In cases like these, it's always better to be a little ahead of the curve, especially in case evidence emerges later stating that cannabis smoke is indeed harmful to children. If you smoke, be respectful of other people in your home — especially if those other people are young and might not be able to tell you that your smoking bothers them.
Marijuana legalization continues to trend across the country — the more states that legalize the drug, the more opposition marijuana users will continue to face. Just be respectful, and don't smoke around your kids. It's that simple.